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Cannabis as a Spiritual Journey: An Interview with Interfaith Minister Mark Pelter

Everyone seems to have had a spiritual moment while using cannabis at one time or another. Its mystical properties enlighten the soul and open the paths to understanding. When a person can feel more deeply they can ponder the path of their own spiritual journey more clearly. Cannabis as a sacrament or enhancer to spirituality is recorded throughout history. I had a chance to sit down with Mark Pelter, an Interfaith Minister who is a spiritual counselor to many in the cannabis movement and beyond.

Mark has been involved in spiritual direction work for 26 years. His work led him to want to find a way of assisting others in their longing for personal and spiritual healing. Out of this urge, he wrote a book, Choosing What’s Chosen You. This is a workbook used for the cultivation of loving-kindness. The workbook begins with the formulation of a personal learning goal. The learning goal development section of the book begins with the question, in what area of your life is it the most difficult to keep your heart open. He has taught a class that uses this workbook both in the High Sierras and the Bay Area for over seven years. Currently he is working on rebuilding their retreat center in the Feather River Canyon of the High Sierras. It is a 51-acre gem that borders Plumas National Forest. His work is renowned in the industry and he donates his time to counseling patients in the Sacramento area and counsels the homeless in the area at Loaves and Fishes. His ability to create an understanding between self, the universe, and the cannabis plant is opening doors for patients and activists all over the state. In his own words…

  • How long have you been a student of the cannabis plant in relation to spirituality? Like many individuals of my generation, I was raised with shame and guilt. I started smoking cannabis when I was 15 and my experiences of it were a mix of pleasure, a heightened sense of the moment and the old shame-guilt. It wasn’t until years later through my involvement with psychedelics and cannabis that I became aware of these substances for there spiritual and medical purposes. This part of my journey began in 1988.
  • How did that journey begin? After leaving Buddhist monastic life in 1984, I began to reintegrate into the secular world of the bay area. A new spiritual need within me at this point that arose the sense of approaching a hairpin turn and feeling inept to navigate my way alone. I found a non-denominational Sufi teacher that integrated these medicines into her work with certain people. I was given the opportunity to explore these medical and spiritual benefits. I became initiated into a deeper type of inner work as I worked on some of my shadow issues and later as I worked on personal integration.
  • In what ways do you see cannabis benefiting a person’s spiritual being? The spiritual benefits are both while under the influence and subsequently. One type of spiritual seekers in the Hindu Faith are called Sadhus. They are known to sit on the banks of the Ganges and to chant: “ Om Shiva Shankara Hari Hari Ganga”. First they chant the chant 3 times follows by taking 3 tokes. They believe that with the third toke they experience God in a universal consciousness form. If readers are interested they might type the chant into there search engine and read further. Additional readings might include the origins of the Rasta culture … I believe that a reader would find that the Rasta Faith goes back to the Sadhus of India. Through cannabis use a person might experience the beauty of nature. Beauty is one of the fastest means of re-connecting spiritually.
  • As an interfaith minister, do you see cannabis as a relevant aspect of all religious and spiritual experiences? I believe that there are as many paths to the holy as there are individuals that draw breath. You know … different strokes. Another reference point for cannabis and psychedelics and spirituality is a book entitled: “­­­ Zig Zag Zen”. I believe that if someone finds cannabis helpful to their experience of spirituality (a meaningful sense of connection with self, others of like mind and heart, and a power greater than one’s self) that the medicine for them has a more holistic value.
  • How does cannabis heighten a person’s awareness to his or her own spirituality? While under the influence a person may experience a sense of no separation with the holy. In Jewish mysticism this might be called, being glued to the holy. In Buddhism it might be called entering the stream. The value of these mystical experiences is profound for the individual even if the experience is relatively short-lived.
  • How can cannabis improve a person’s relationship with their higher power? The heroes journey involves facing truth and Truth, being seen, knowing the true of our hearts. While under the influence thoughts and feeling may arise. If people choose to face themselves they may become free. This basic principal can be very helpful in this journey of a lifetime. We simply choose to relate with whatever is showing up in our life.
  • How do you think a person’s use of cannabis medicinally, or recreationally differs from the intent of using it spiritually? I remember a time while I was training with a Zen priest that the priest was asked, “What is spiritual?” He answered, “What isn’t?” Spirituality is a unifying experience of feeling or experientially knowing that there is no separation. While our personality (ego) is founded on the illusion of separation, this separation is the prime illusion that makes us feel separate while the Ultimate Truth is that there is no separation at all. Recreational use involves a focus on entertainment of some kind. Medical use is focused either on a more balanced mind or less physical pain.
  • Do you think the often-negative imagery surrounding cannabis in our society has left a vital misunderstanding into the spiritual side of the plant? Yes. I think that those that had something to gain from shrouding the plant with negative images did a number on the masses in order to prohibit its use. Of course we are still fighting the negative advertisements about cannabis.
  • Do you think the plant itself has the power to teach if a person is open to learning from it? Yes, the plant can help us with deep inner healing as well as opening the doorways of perception beyond the normal range into spiritual experiences. If we choose not to suppress our awareness, thoughts and feelings we can learn from them. Cannabis can heighten our awareness of our experiences, thoughts, feelings and perceptions.
  • How do you see the plant enhancing spiritual growth in a person? One of the supple aspects of the plant is the net effect for the following day. In my journey, I prefer to use the medicine at the end of the day for pain management, etc. In the morning when I do my meditation, I find that there is greater ease and depth. It is easier to drop into a deep sense of connection with all that is.
  • What do you see as the plant’s natural force in the world? When we get beyond the current struggles regarding federal laws etc., we may come back to greater acceptance of use for paper, cloth, oil, fuels, medicinal properties such as CBD’s, etc.
  • Does cannabis give people a higher potential to experience spiritual awakenings or focus more clearly on that side of their life? One of the schools of Buddhism is the sudden school while another school is for the long haul. Whether sudden or over the long haul, when enlightenment comes it shatters our previous perception of our life from one seeking the extraordinary to seeing the gift of the ordinary and experientially knowing that there is no separation. Because the effect of cannabis is nearly instantaneous, it helps the mind and attention to pivot towards the experience of the “Eternal Now Moment”.
  • How long has cannabis been used spiritually by humans? I believe that part of our native intelligent as humans is that we are curious beings. We try this and that even if it literally kills us. We just needed to know. Both in Africa and in India, cannabis has been used for centuries and has become a part of their lives and spirituality. I don’t exactly know the timeframe or when it became documented as part of our human story.
  • When do you think it became less normal for people to use cannabis in a spiritual manner? The culture of prohibition and other factors in society created a culture of stimulus gratification. This addiction to stimulation keeps individuals living on the surface of life without necessarily knowing that there is more to life. I believe that the gangs are an expression of the need for the part of spirituality that families otherwise provide. Yet, when we examine what is missing in our lives it always comes back to a need for a meaningful sense of connection … spirituality with meaningful rights of passage (ritual). Just like there is a ritual of breaking bread together there is a ritual of passing the pipe together. I believe that cannabis is part of the ultimate solution for these challenges.
  • Do you see the new understanding of the plant’s benefits as an opportunity for this to be a more widely accepted spiritual practice? Yes. All of the great spiritual traditions see life as sacred and precious. The exploration of CBD’s and other cannibinoids as treatments for cancer and other ailments opens the door for greater social acceptance. The challenge goes back to the fight between the pharmaceutical companies and medical science; although this time I believe there is more social awareness thanks to advocates and proponents fighting for the cause.

No matter what your spiritual beliefs are, cannabis does not discriminate. There is a major misunderstanding surrounding using cannabis in a spiritual sense. I believe that we all long for a deeper insight into who we are spiritually, physically, and mentally. Cannabis helps one to better explore the many possibilities of our inner most thoughts. The next time you are using cannabis take a moment to observe your spiritual side, whatever that may be. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself.